- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

On Wednesday, Rep. Fred Upton’s House Subcommitee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing to propose an increase in fines for obscenity over the airwaves. The penalty would grow tenfold, from $27,500 per incident to $275,000. While Mr. Upton’s hearing was underway, all five members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were in San Antonio, home of Clear Channel, for a town meeting to discuss local issues in broadcasting. Just one day before, FCC Chairman Michael Powell slapped Clear Channel with a $755,000 fine for allegedly indecent broadcasts by a shock jock named Bubba the Love Sponge. On several fronts, the air war is heating up.

Under current obscenity regulations, $755,000 is the maximum penalty for this case. If Mr. Powell, Mr. Upton and the Bush administration get their way, that fine for repeated offenses would jump to $7.5 million. The argument is that large companies need larger deterrents to stop indecent broadcasts, which have increased dramatically over the past few years. Bubba the Love Sponge, for example, was found responsible for 26 instances. Current penalties are not prohibitive enough to counter the profitability of pushing the envelope of decency.

Before Mr. Powell’s hearing, an army of left-wing activists camped out as early as 4 a.m. to protest FCC policies under the Bush administration. But rather than provide constructive comments about the issue of obscenity, the angry crowds rallied against media consolidation and what they perceived to be a growing right-wing media bias. Fox News was singled out as evidence of this supposed industry trend.

Despite appearances, the demonstration was not a grass-roots uprising of concerned citizens, but a concerted push by partisan interests. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the protest was led by Common Cause, Public Citizen, Consumers Union and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. In total, these groups have received $1.3 million from radical leftish billionaire George Soros, who has said that his mission in life is to drive President Bush out of the White House.

Wednesday’s protest is an example of how one rich man with an ax to grind against the president can target a federal agency. Minus the Soros groups, outrage against the FCC would have been absent from the San Antonio meeting. The distraction was unfortunate, as it overshadowed a major issue on which the ideologically divided commission is in general agreement. Michael Copps, one of two Democratic commissioners, has even said that Mr. Powell’s penalty increases are not strict enough and has suggested revocation of station licenses for repeated obscenity offenses. We agree that it has become too commonplace to flagrantly violate obscenity standards, but revoking a license for a few vulgarities goes too far. Stiffer fines — the middle ground in this battle —would likely clean up the airwaves.

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